Hubris on the high seas is the cause of the death of a sails man in THE MERCY, a film of crests and troughs, the summit of aspiration, the quest for adventure and the doldrums of embarrassment.
Back story: With the Empire gone, in 1960s Britain there developed a phenomenon where men sought adventure, recognition and heroism. Heroes came in the form of people like Francis Chichester who was the first person to tackle a single-handed circumnavigation of the world, starting and finishing in England with one stop in Sydney. Upon his return in 1967, Chichester was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and instantly became a national hero.
Capitalising on this wave of interest in individual round the world voyages, The Sunday Times sponsored the Golden Globe race, a non-stop, single-handed round the world yacht race. No qualifications were required for entrants but the rule was that they had to depart between 1st June and 31st October 1968 in order to pass through the Southern Ocean in summer. The trophy would be awarded to the first person to complete the race unassisted via the old clipper route, of the great Capes: Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn.The newspaper also offered a cash prize of £5000 for the fastest single-handed navigation.
Donald Crowhurst was an inventor turned entrepreneur who was finding it terribly difficult to sell his product. He was lured to the challenge of the race not only by the princely sum of the winnings but, as he saw it, the priceless value of the publicity for his navigation device.
As the saying goes, you’ve got to spend money to make money, he mortgaged his house and business and ransomed his family to fame and fortune, in a starry eyed hope for sea-lebrity. He hadn’t sailed the ocean properly, yet he built this very fast trimaran, but the boat wasn’t fully tested and finished. He made a pretty good go at sailing round the world – he stayed out in the ocean for the best part of seven months so all in all, he achieved much more than people ever thought he could, he just didn’t achieve what his objective was. It was a staggering case of over-reach
Director James Marsh is a helmsman of both documentary and narrative feature films. His last film The Theory of Everything was about Stephen Hawking and Marsh’s documentary Man On Wire won a total of 31 major awards around the world, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Obviously he is drawn to real life characters whose reach exceeds their grasp.
Colin Firth plays Donald Crowhurst as a man of enormous energy and charm and enormous self-belief, which is eventually eroded by both the elements and his inner ebb of endeavour.
He’s a Firth amongst equals as the brilliant Rachel Weisz plays his wife, Clare, in a performance of incredible strength and forbearance, pining yet supportive for her spouse but stoic and determined to be there for her children.
Louise Stjernsward’s prolific feature film credits as a costume designer include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in 2012 and the follow-up, The Second Best Marigold Hotel in 2015.
Here, she elevates baggy brown corduroys and floral pyjamas to a new cinematic height.
Show some mercy – see THE MERCY.